Yaalon’s proclamation came during U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to the Middle East this weekend, including his first visit to Israel since his conformation. Hagel traveled to the region in part to finalize an arms deal worth $10 billion, split between the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Speaking to reporters, Hagel said, “I don’t think there’s any question that [the deal is] another very clear signal to Iran.”
Yaalon agreed with the Obama administration’s policy that the “military option” remains on the table for confronting Iran, saying “one way or another Iran’s nuclear program will be stopped.” He also emphasized, however, the importance of such a move only coming should all others fail:
“We believe that the military option, which is well discussed, should be the last resort,” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters at a news conference with Hagel.
“And there are other tools to be used and to be exhausted,” Yaalon said, listing diplomacy, economic sanctions and “moral support” for domestic opponents of Iran’s hardline Islamist leadership.
In a profile published at the time of his appointment, Reuters highlighted Yaalon’s preference for Israel to follow a cautious approach when determining how to handle Iran, a stance he appears to have brought with him into the Defense Ministry. Yaalon was also listed among the members of Netanyahu’s previous cabinet opposed to launching strikes on Iran in 2011, according to Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot.
Yaalon’s appointment as Defense Minister, given his previous positions on Iran, highlights the shift in Israeli rhetoric in recent months. Following Netanyahu’s so-called “Red Line” speech at the United Nations in October, the drumbeats for war have receded at least slightly. Israeli officials, particularly Netanyahu, have cooled their rhetoric due, in part it seems, to Iran’s continued conversion of its enriched uranium into a form harder to enrich further. But also, as his most recent trip to Israel showed, President Obama has largely succeeded in moving Netanyahu closer to his thinking on Iran since October. “I think there was a policy shift from Netanyahu,” CAP’s Matt Duss said on MSNBC last month, adding that “it’s Netanyahu really climbing down” to Obama’s position.
As Yaalon indicated, all options regarding Iran have yet to be exhausted. Iran on Monday announced it is seeking a new round of talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency over its nuclear program, tentatively scheduled to take place in May. A recent report from The Iran Project also emphasized that there is much the international community can still do to engage Iran diplomatically to end the stand-off over its nuclear program.